Matthew 15:10 Then (Jesus) called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” …15 But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
You probably know that, in Jesus’ day, the people of Israel had lots of rules. These rules began with the 10 commandments God gave to Moses, but over the years were multiplied into hundreds of rules governing every area of life – especially food. There were strict dietary laws the people closely observed.
Jesus caused a stir in this passage because he appeared to contradict long-held beliefs about food. He said, in essence, what really matters is one’s heart condition – not one’s diet. The rules were put in place to shape a people whose lives would reflect the values of God – concern for justice, care for marginalized people, love of neighbor. Unfortunately, over the centuries, people found ways to follow the letter of these rules, yet remain hard-hearted toward others. What was true in Jesus’ day is true in ours:
It’s possible to follow all the right religious rules, yet remain unchanged on the inside.
Like many of you, my life is significantly shaped by my faith – as you would expect of a pastor. I choose to follow rules/boundaries because I find them life-giving: regular worship, Sabbath rest, tithing income, prayer, serving others, and so on. The difficult question this passage asks of me is, “What is my heart condition?”
Does my life reflect the heart of God? Or am I just following rules? Hard questions.
Heavenly Father, as we do our best to honor the boundaries you’ve set for your people, give us grace to be transformed from the inside out. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.